University fundraisers press ahead in weak economy

GW’s Office of Development may be without a permanent director during a slumping economic climate, but it is plowing full steam ahead in a fundraising push for three major projects, University President Steven Knapp said this week.

The University has set goals to increase donations for financial aid by $30 million, continue toward a goal of $15 million for Smith Center renovations, and garner funds for the estimated $300 million cost of the Science and Engineering Complex.

“Our fundraising last year did not hit the targets we had earlier projected, but we actually declined by a smaller percentage than other universities,” Knapp said.

Fundraising has been a primary goal for Knapp since his selection as the University’s 16th president. He said the Office of Development was not planning on launching a new initiative or revamping their existing strategy in the poor climate. Instead, the University will continue building their donor and alumni relationships, Knapp said in an e-mail.

“What matters in fundraising, to be completely honest with you, is not developing innovative plans but understanding what we are doing that really matters to people, really makes a difference to people’s lives, and through that understanding persuade potential donors to direct their gifts toward our university instead of someplace else,” Knapp said.

Knapp said that even during these difficult financial times philanthropic gifts are still being received, including an anonymous gift for $2.3 million to be put toward the Elliott School of International Affairs and Smith Center renovations. In addition, $150 million for pediatric surgery was recently given to the National Children’s Medical Center, an affiliate of GW.

“People in this country and around the world want their gifts to make a real difference. That may be a difference in the life of a student who otherwise could not afford to attend this great university,” Knapp added.

John Kudless, the interim vice president for Development and Alumni Relations, said his office is working closely with Donald Lehman, executive vice president for Academic Affairs, to set fundraising priorities for projects like the Science and Engineering Complex.

To raise money, Kudless said, the development office is “continuing to build our parents and alumni base through events like Alumni Weekend, Colonials Weekend and the Global Forum,” adding that this will help “strengthen the culture of philanthropy at GW.”

Knapp said the University is doing as much as possible to get donors to increase, or at least sustain, their philanthropic donations to the University.

“Some donors have expressed the need to be cautious in this time of economic uncertainty. But that doesn’t change the way we approach donors,” Knapp said. “We can’t achieve our aspirations through small gifts alone, as important as those are.”

Kudless echoed Knapp’s sentiments.

“Philanthropy is, and always has been, about relationships,” Kudless said. “No matter the state of the economy, we will continue to cultivate and steward our donors and potential donors. We want to keep them informed about and engaged with The George Washington University.”

Kudless said his office will engage donors by informing of them of the University’s “priorities and aspirations” through events like Celebration of Service and publications like the alumni newsletter and Web site.

Emily Cahn contributed to this report.

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